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  • Google Update? How to Know if There Has Been One and What to Do About It

    Google Update? How to Know if There Has Been One and What to Do About It

    Do you dread the next Google update? Have you experienced a ranking drop or annihilation in the SERPs after one of Google’s regular updates?

    After every Google update, many people complain about losing visibility in the search engines. Sometimes the updates affect people in certain industries more than others. For example, Google’s E-A-T update knocked a significant number of health-related websites back several pages in the SERPs.

    If you’re worried about the next Google update affecting your rankings, you’re not alone. If you look on any SEO discussion forum or subreddit, you’ll find plenty of people discussing the effects of the latest update. Sometimes, rankings are drastically affected initially, but seem to even out over time. However, that’s not always the case.

    Recovered from Google Panda Update

    For many people, there is no recovery after a Google update, most notably after the infamous Panda update. According to Search Engine Roundtable, 87% of people never fully recovered from Panda even after one year. Of those people, 29% said they recovered a “little,” but 58% said they saw no recovery whatsoever.

    Are you concerned about Google updates?

    Panda wasn’t the only Google update that ruffled some SEO feathers. Many core updates – and even smaller updates – have been disrupting search engine rankings for years. If you’re worried about the impact of Google’s next update, you have a good reason to be concerned. However, you’re not helpless.

    There are ways to know when an update has occurred and what to do to protect your rankings. This article will show you how to stay up to date with Google’s updates and provide you with resources to recover if you’re impacted.

    First, it’s important to understand the different types of updates Google makes. Most updates are minor and won’t affect your ranking. However, you need to know which updates are minor and which ones require your full attention.

    Google makes several types of updates

    There are two main types of updates Google makes: major core algorithm updates and minor algorithm updates/adaptations/alterations.

    The Penguin and Panda updates are examples of major core algorithm updates, while the September 18, 2019, update to the Rich Snippet Review Update is an example of a minor update.

    Within the category of minor updates are all kinds of tweaks to the algorithm from mobile-first indexing to making page load speed an official ranking factor. Also, some minor updates are actually penalties designed to solve specific problems like copyright infringement and interstitial pop-ups.

    There’s no way to know what kind of update Google will toss out next. All you can do is be ready to do some cleaning up if your site is affected.

    Don’t panic – not all Google updates will negatively impact your rankings

    Although Google updates have a reputation for de-ranking webpages, your site won’t be negatively impacted by every update. In fact, you might even find some of your webpages ranking higher after an update. Ranking higher after an update is rare, but it’s only rare because the majority of websites don’t meet Google’s quality standards.

    If your site is one of the best in your industry and you’re producing unbeatable expert content, you’re less likely to be affected negatively by a Google update. For example, sites like cars.com and Walmart.com probably don’t suffer much after an update.

    Why does Google make so many algorithm updates?

    In the beginning, when Google was just getting started, the algorithm was extremely simple: webpages were ranked based on the number of accumulated backlinks. Websites with more backlinks ranked higher – it was that simple.

    The minute website owners saw the commercial potential for ranking high in search engines, that’s when people started gaming the system to rank higher. Many people started paying companies to generate backlinks from spammy websites that served no other purpose. Today, that wouldn’t work, but in the 1990s, it worked well.

    In response to backlink abuse, Google began the arduous task of tweaking its algorithm to encourage webmasters to publish quality content. This was a process that began in the 1990s and hasn’t stopped since.

    Google continually updates its algorithm

    Google makes hundreds of algorithms updates every year. These updates apply important changes Google believes will return a higher level of relevant search results to users. In Google’s world, everything is about the user. Every update is designed to increase the quality of search results and decrease the amount of spam that gets indexed and ranked.

    While you can’t guess what’s coming next, you can be prepared to do damage control if necessary. First, you need a strategy to stay on top of new updates.

    Here are 2 ways to stay on top of Google’s updates, both rumored and confirmed.

    1. Monitor historical lists of algorithm changes

    Google Algorithm Update History page from Moz

    There are several SEO blogs that keep a running list of all Google updates, officially confirmed or not. Here are three places where you can find a comprehensive list of all Google updates. These lists are usually updated quickly once an update rolls out.

    • Moz. The best resource for Google algorithm updates is the Google Algorithm Update History page from Moz. This list can be filtered by year and/or confirmed status.
    • Search Metrics. This list provides some interesting information with each Google update along with relevant links of interest.
    • Search Engine Journal. SEJ’s list of Google updates contains basic information, relevant links, and related articles from their blog.

    You don’t have to check these lists daily, but put it on your calendar as a weekly or monthly task. Bookmark all the links because if one site hasn’t been updated yet, others might be more current.

    2. Join high-quality SEO discussion groups

    Joining SEO discussion groups is a great way to get a heads up about Google updates and potential consequences. You’ll find active posts in these groups whenever Google makes any changes, including major algorithm updates.

    You don’t need to join every SEO discussion group – just get connected with the top groups. While you can find SEO groups on Facebook, those groups tend to have excessive banter that gets in the way of the information you want.

    Reddit isn’t perfect, but the conversations in SEO groups tend to be meaty. Join the subs you resonate with, but don’t worry about joining every sub. Many of the smaller subreddits are offshoots of the main groups and have the same members.

    Here are some of the best SEO subreddits to join:

    • Big SEO. This subreddit has been around for a while and is a great alternative to the main SEO sub.
    • SEO Growth. This subreddit was formed to create a helpful space for beginning and experienced SEOs.
    • Tech SEO. This subreddit is dedicated to discussing the technical aspects of SEO.

    Other good SEO discussion groups to join include:

    Discussion forums and subreddits are a great place to connect with other people to find out what’s going on, what others are experiencing, and get recovery tips.

    Google’s major updates explained

    Google’s major updates explained

    About a decade ago, you only had to worry about being negatively impacted by a Google update if you were engaging in black hat tactics like article spinning, keyword stuffing, and private blog networks.

    For example, on February 24, 2011, Google initiated the Panda update to squash duplicate content, plagiarized content, and user-generated spam.

    On April 24, 2012, the Penguin update was released to put an end to spammy backlinks and backlinks with over-optimized anchor text.

    After these two main updates, several more core algorithm updates were made to eliminate shallow content, poor user experience, and poorly written content.

    Today’s Google updates are more sophisticated and target more nuanced aspects of search and user experience. For example, Google now prioritizes mobile-friendly webpages and won’t index webpages that don’t work for mobile devices.

    Mobile-first indexing was a necessary change in light of the mobile revolution. According to statistics, in 2018, 52.2% of internet traffic came from a mobile device. That number has only grown in the years since and is expected to rise to more than 87% by 2023.

    How to know if you’ve been impacted by a Google update

    Don’t wait until you notice your sales dropping to find out if you’ve been negatively impacted by the latest Google update. Stay on top of your rankings with the following strategies.

    7 strategies to recover from a Google update

    1. Monitor your traffic and visibility regularly

    The best way to know if you’ve been affected by an update is to monitor your traffic and visibility on a regular basis. There are always multiple factors that affect ranking, and you need to make sure your site wasn’t already on a downward trajectory right before an update.

    If you don’t monitor your visibility regularly, you’ll probably attribute lower visibility to a Google update even if your visibility was dropping before the update. Not monitoring your visibility means you won’t be able to tell if you’ve truly been affected by the update.

    2. Use the Z-Score

    Fluctuation in SERP visibility is normal. A slight drop doesn’t mean you’ve been negatively hit by an update, but you need a way to differentiate between all possibilities. The Z-Score is a reliable way to measure visibility changes that can help determine if those changes were caused by Google’s most recent update.

    Normally used in the financial industry, the Z-Score takes a given value and calculates standard deviations away from the mean.

    For example, in SEO, scores of more than +2.0 or less than -2.0 are considered significant deviations from the mean. When your Z-Score is out of normal range after an update, it’s an indication that you’ve been affected.

    3. Go the extra mile to create an exceptionally mobile-friendly UX/UI

    perform a mobile SEO audit

    If you’ve been dropped from the first page of the SERPs, or you’ve been pushed further back when you were just about to have a ranking breakthrough, it might be related to your website’s mobile-friendly status.

    Sites that don’t provide a good UX/UI for mobile users often get dropped from the index or pushed back in the SERPs during major algorithm updates.

    Today, mobile-friendly websites are expected to be the norm. Every website is expected to be mobile-friendly as a standard. That’s why most people use responsive design so they only need to build one website that automatically adjusts for mobile and desktop users.

    If your site isn’t 100% mobile-friendly with a responsive design, perform a mobile SEO audit to find out where you can improve and then start working on a new design. Even if your website design isn’t the reason your site was affected by a Google update, you can never go wrong with improving mobile usability.

    4. Get committed to being an expert resource in your niche

    One of the best ways to recover from being negatively impacted by a Google update is to become committed to being an expert resource in your niche. The ultimate experts in any niche tend to evade negative update consequences. There’s a reason for that.

    True authority sites produce amazing and truly unique content that visitors enjoy. True authority sites naturally meet Google’s quality standards, and many can be considered the “poster child” for a Google-friendly site. When you show Google you mean business, you’ll start to recover.

    5. Focus on becoming a better expert

    There’s always something more to learn in your industry, even if it’s just learning how to help people better. Start learning more about your industry and the problems your market faces. You can always improve the solutions you offer your audience. The more you have to offer, the more popular your site will become.

    If you want to recover and survive Google updates unscathed in the future, start working hard at becoming a true expert in your niche.

    6. Did you just relaunch or migrate your site? Verify your site was properly launched/moved

    Nothing can alter your rankings like a migration or relaunch. There are so many things that can go wrong and so many factors that can be accidentally forgotten or overlooked.

    If you migrated your site from one CMS to another, or from one domain to another, check to make sure you didn’t forget any details. For example, if you moved to WordPress, did you uncheck the box that blocks robots from crawling your site? Did you take off the password-protection from your new directory? Did you create permanent 301 redirects for all the URLs you had to change?

    Make sure your relaunch or migration is truly complete. If you’re still dropping from the SERPs, your final option is to investigate what the update changed.

    7. Analyze the update and adjust your site

    If you’ve truly been hit by a Google update, read as much as possible about what problem the update was created to solve. Then, comb through your website to see if any of your content or pages are part of the problem, according to Google.

    If you find webpages or content you think might be the reason for your ranking drop, you need a plan to recover. If you’re not sure how to strategize a comeback, hire a professional.

    Hit by a Google update? SEO.co can help you recover

    Did your SERP rankings drop after a Google update, but you’re not sure how to recover? Does revamping your website to meet Google’s high standards seem overwhelming? If so, sign up for a free SEO audit to find out what you’re doing right and what you can change.

    We can help you recover from major and minor Google updates, and we can optimize your site at the same time. Contact us today for a free consultation.

    Chief Revenue Officer at SEO Company
    Industry veteran Timothy Carter is SEO.co’s Chief Revenue Officer. Tim leads all revenue for the company and oversees all customer-facing teams for SEO (search engine optimization) services - including sales, marketing & customer success. He has spent more than 20 years in the world of SEO & Digital Marketing, assisting in everything from SEO for lawyers to complex technical SEO for Fortune 500 clients like Wiley, Box.com, Qualtrics and HP.

    Tim holds expertise in building and scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and drive growth from websites and sales teams.

    When he's not working, Tim enjoys playing a few rounds of disc golf, running, and spending time with his wife and family on the beach...preferably in Hawaii.

    Over the years he's written for publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur, Marketing Land, Search Engine Journal, ReadWrite and other highly respected online publications. Connect with Tim on Linkedin & Twitter.
    Timothy Carter